In the last 20 years, digital technologies have permeated the practice of dentistry and completely reformatted traditional analog workflows. We have now replaced those with digital workflows that increase efficiency along with allowing doctors to provide better patient outcomes.
The result has been all aspects of practice having smoother processes with fewer pain points and fewer opportunities for errors. In fact, these processes have become so ubiquitous that most are not even noticed any more. Instead, the processes proceed in a smooth and uninterrupted manner from beginning to end.
For years, as Technology Evangelist, I have envisioned your Practice Management System as an “invisible assistant” that works behind the scenes to provide necessary information and imaging to the doctor in a “just in time” delivery system. This allows the doctor and the staff to concentrate on the patient as a person.
Expediting Patient Arrival
As an example, a several years ago we automated our patient intake system to eliminate clipboards and paper. Up to that point I had employed a very sweet young administrator named Meghan to hand out the clipboards and help the patients fill out the forms. When I announced to Meghan that we were doing away with that process, she broke into tears saying “That was my job! What will I do now?” She thought she would be let go and would be replaced by automation. Instead I told her that her new job was to greet the patients, get them their favorite drink, and get to know them as *people* while they waited for their appointment.
We turned the “waiting room” into the “reception room” where patients were treated like friends and greeted as guests. The technology gave Meghan the freedom to use her personality and her incredible people skills to a much greater degree and the patients noticed it and commented on it. Plus the streamlined digital check-in meant patients spent less time waiting. Often the patient arrived in reception to find a clinical team member at the front desk waiting to whisk them back to their appointment. The technology saved the office time and saved the patients time as well. The Dentrix Patient Portal can help check in patients quickly and efficiently. Learn more: https://www.dentrix.com/products/eservices/patient-portal
Increase Communication During Diagnosis
One of the tremendous advantages of clinical data being digital data is that ones and zeros move around the office much more quickly than paper and/or film. In the majority of instances, when a new patient is ready for my exam, the team has done an outstanding job of collecting all relevant clinical information as well as images. Dentrix Smart Image puts all your images in one place. Learn more: https://www.dentrix.com/smartimage
This means that before I ever even begin my diagnosis in the operatory, I’ve had the opportunity to review and digest that data and those images. When I walk into the operatory I come in well prepared and well informed. This allows me to actually greet the patient and frequently talk to them with a minimum of time spent studying the data that the staff has gathered for me in front of the patient. Dentrix Health History and Alerts keep you up to date with the latest patient information. Learn more: http://hsps.pro/dentrix/newfeatures/NFOG72.html
Dentistry is a high-stress environment for many patients and they harbor many fears about it. Their internal voice is often running on a loop with frightening questions dealing with fear of pain, fear of cost, fear of embarrassment, and others. Our clinical layouts often put the doctor’s monitor behind the patient and so, as we review images and data, we are silent as we study and formulate a treatment plan. To a new patient, that silence can seem to last hours and their fears escalate because of it. When the doctor arrives with a pleasant greeting and a disarming opening phrase such as “I was reviewing your information at my desk and I think we can help you with a couple of simple procedures” patients immediately relax and are open to discussing treatment and how to accomplish their goals. This is a much better scenario than minutes spent by the doctor behind them staring into a monitor and mumbling to themselves.
This is unfortunately true during our current environment of the global Covid-19 pandemic. Our PPE is obviously very necessary, but the same equipment that keeps the doctor, patient, and team members safe also creates a barrier between doctor and patient that interferes with the interpersonal communication so intrinsic to forming effective and critical bonds of trust. Since patients truly cannot see us very well, our verbal communication is important and needs to be spot on. It is critically important for us to have the time for meaningful verbal communication since we don’t have the luxury of facial expressions that help provide so much non-verbal meaning to our words.
Increase Efficiency During Treatment
The “Invisible Assistant” works in all aspects of your treatment cycle. When you sit down to actually deliver the treatment you discussed during diagnosis, all clinical information is available to you the moment you sit down. My team is instructed to have the chart open and to have all relevant images open and available.
During the treatment appointment I know exactly what I am doing and if I have any questions or need more information during the appointment I can review radiographs, photos, chart notes, and anything else that might add clinical relevance to the procedure.
We also document the procedure with clinical intraoral photographs as we work. These photographs are often very useful when filing for coverage from third party payors.
The Dentrix Treatment Planner can help you present your case in a compelling way. Learn more: https://magazine.dentrix.com/creating-treatment-plan-options-for-your-patients/
Communicating with Your Patients by Utilizing Your Invisible Assistant
There is an old adage which though often overused can still provide an opportunity for us to learn. That expression is “People don’t care how much you know, but they want to know how much you care.” I believe this is still an incredibly important concept in healthcare.
This is similar in concept to the story about Meghan that I told earlier in this article. In that instance, we used technology to turn Meghan from a voice on the phone to a greeter and concierge for the patients. This allowed her amazing people skills to be put to their best use and everyone in the equation benefited from it greatly.
You can also use your technology to communicate with your patients through emails and text messages. If done correctly and unobtrusively, these communication platforms can be utilized to great advantage to help your patients be reminded of appointments and other critical pieces of information while also clearly demonstrating your dedication to their health and your appreciation of their trust. Dentrix Patient Engage allows you to simplify communication with patients and save time. Learn more: https://www.dentrix.com/products/eservices/patient-engage
I have found a tremendous way of showing my appreciation for new patients. At the end of my day as I am reviewing my digital notes for every patient seen that day, I use my software to send a HIPAA compliant text message to the new patients I met that day. In the message I make sure to mention a unique moment we shared during the appointment while thanking them for their trust. I’ve received many positive responses about these messages and how much it means to patients to have a healthcare provider reach out on a personal basis.
Our world has become a complicated place. While many may dream of a return of the world that spawned Leave it to Beaver, those days will never return. Our lives have accelerated and our responsibilities along with them. This is even more true when applied to any career in healthcare.
Our patients expect a great deal from us. They want the best treatment with an expedient delivery system. This can create a great deal of stress on those of us who are providers. We are held to a very high standard while being expected to provide treatment in a streamlined and low stress fashion. Keeping track of every bit of critical information along the way can push many of us to long hours after patients leave the office and even sleepless nights as we struggle to meet the standards expected of us.
To help us perform these tasks and meet these expectations it is critical that our software works along with us. Our computerized management systems should exist to serve us and it is important that we as providers remember that we do not exist to serve our software. To meet the demands placed on today’s practitioner remember that you should have that “invisible assistant” always sitting on your shoulder and that assistant should be ready to help at a moment’s notice.
There has never been a better time to be a healthcare provider! Here’s to the future!
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